It is cooler today, and the dogs and I walk at lunch time, beneath a muffled white sky. Stevie walks with us, and Arfa Pants is on his best behaviour, without the ketchup-red harness he hates so much.
Despite the sun, it’s still hot – 23 degrees – and we don’t speak much. The air down Wroxton Lane tastes thick with pollen, and the tarmac creates heat shimmers from its softening surface. We pass Phlox Cottage, with its Alpine strawberry patch. The fruit glows like shiny red treasure, benefiting hugely from dog wee. The thick swathe of dying nettles and dock down by the stream look sadder than ever. I mutter dark words about the fluorescent-vested Council Workers and their obsession with poisons.
On our right is Brook Cottage, Liz’s little white house, almost disappeared in its hay-field of a garden. A sign advises us of the upcoming auction, and I tell Stevie I wish we could buy it.
‘It floods, you idiot.’
I tell him I don’t care, we could fix it. He grunts and turns left, into Emma’s Bottom Meadow. The grasses in here are spectacular – too many types to name. It’s tangled with clover and the last shreds of yellow vetchling. Sheep’s sorrell tucks itself in my shoes as we walk, cool with its rubbery red balls of pollen. The dogs charge through grass as tall as me, Arfa’s big mouth open, as if he’s laughing with the joy of it all.
I spot tall, creamy-white flowers frothing through the newly-laid blackthorn hedge, and tell Stevie I think they’re meadowsweet. He hums and raises his eyebrows, and I laugh. I know he’s bored silly by my rhapsodising. Mid-way down the meadow, we turn right, into the meadow with the random springs. It’s been cut, and the grasses lie drying in rough lines. It smells of childhood summers and makes me think of French cricket. We decide to walk around the perimeter and follow a line, rather than march up the middle as the path dictates.
‘I’ve never walked along this hedge,’ I say, and Stevie turns around so I can appreciate his eye-roll.
I notice what I think is a row of huge blackthorns, but as I grow nearer, I notice their fruit – already the size of a walnut. Plums. Must be. I’m so excited.
‘But why?’ says Stevie.
‘Puddings! Crumbles! Pies! For free!’
‘I suppose I’ll have to pick them.’
I grin. We walk on, and I look back every couple of minutes to memorise their secret spot.
Back out on the lane, we meander along then turn left, heading back to the Banbury Road. Ewes bellow at us indignantly, and we notice the lambs are gone. Poor sheep. We slap at the horseflies landing on our shoulders, and then wait as the dogs slide down the steep banks of the stream for a drink.
Dora emerges with four black socks.
We cross Dave’s fields, catching silky-cased oats between our fingers and being leg-barged by Pants.
‘Bloody dog,’ says Stevie, as Arfa cannons into him again.
I suddenly realise he’s been talking to me, but I’ve no idea what about.
‘Sorry?’ I say.
‘God,’ says Stevie. ‘You never listen.’
‘I do,’ I protest, but I’m lying.
‘You’re thinking about bloody plums,’ says Stevie. ‘Aren’t you?’
‘Um,’ I say. ‘Yes. Yes I am. In jam.’